Microorganisms ‘may provide key to keeping crops pest-free’

Barrie Wilkinson of Cambridge company Isomerase Therapeutics is one of the speakers at the Agri-Tech

Barrie Wilkinson of Cambridge company Isomerase Therapeutics is one of the speakers at the Agri-Tech East Pollinator event at Norwich Research Park on April 21. - Credit: Archant

Microorganisms and their defence mechanisms may provide the key to providing alternatives to conventional pesticides, East Anglian farmers will be told later this month.

Agri-Tech East’s Pollinator event on April 21, entitled Symbiosis and Synergies: The Secrets to Successful Agri-Tech Collaborations, will highlight the urgent need for new thinking on pest control as the European Union moves away from some of the mainstays in farmers’ armouries.

The event will discuss how collaboration can produce new solutions.

Speaker Barrie Wilkinson of Cambridge company Isomerase Therapeutics will tell delegates that a chemical produced by many plants and microorganisms to protect themselves against predators could be used to help farmers.

“We are working in collaboration with Acidophil Ltd, a commercial innovation group, to develop new products to protect crops and livestock from pests,” he explained.

“Many plants and microorganisms protect themselves against predators and competitors by releasing chemicals, called secondary metabolites, and these active ingredients offer the potential for a new generation of pest control agents.

“Isomerase typically, but not solely, works on natural products produced by actinomycetes, which are bacteria prevalent in the soil.

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“Natural products have evolved to be selective, potent and bio-degradable organic molecules so they are environmentally friendly. They are also produced artificially using fermentation, which has less environmental impact than traditional chemical synthesis.”

The Pollinator networking meeting provides an opportunity for farmers and growers to meet with technologists and researchers to help the agri-tech cluster to grow.

Mr Wilkinson says he is keen to gain an understanding of what the market needs.

“Isomerase and Acidophil wanted to participate in the Pollinator event as we are looking to work with agribusinesses that understand the unmet needs of farmers, are interested in innovative products and have resources and expertise in the animal health or crop protection arenas,” he said.

There will also be a chance from Nelson County Foods boss Dan Hewitt and Professor Rob Field, project leader for biological chemistry at John Innes Centre about an agri-tech case study. Their collaborative project is looking at new technologies for potato storage and is funded through the Agri-Tech Initiative.

Dr Jonathan Clarke, head of business development at the John Innes Centre said: “The exciting thing about the funding released under the government’s Agri-Tech Initiative is that it is making it possible for many smaller organisations, such as growers groups, to consider accessing science for the first time.

“As a research institute we have a scientific knowledge base built up over the years. Our researchers can act as consultants for business, they understand the science and how to evaluate the literature and are able to identify where the greatest value may be obtained from further work.

“The role of the farmer or producer is to explain the challenge they are facing and also the operational constraints; for example the solution must add economic benefit, it can’t be more expensive to implement than the value return from the crop. This requires a holistic understanding of the situation that can only come from someone with a practical knowledge of the industry.”

For more information on the Pollinator event, which takes place at Norwich Research Park, visit www.agritech-east.co.uk/events/pollinator-symbiosis-and-synergies/